Buchanan County Fairs
Buchanan County, IA Biographies

The first notice of a county fair appeared in the Independence Civilian of July 23, 1857. It had been suggested by a number of individuals that the citizens of Buchanan County should take measures to form a "County Agricultural Fair" to be held in such town as determined upon by the committee appointed for that purpose, and in order to get the people interested to offer premiums to exhibitors for the best specimens of farm produce. It was thought perhaps the season was too far advanced for that year, but the meeting should be called and the ball put in motion for next year. Accordingly several meetings were held which culminated in a county fair being held in Independence October 13 and 14, 1858. In the Quasqueton Guardian of February 25, 1858, appeared a call "to the farmers of Buchanan County" and all others interested in the formation and maintenance of a county agricultural society, in view of the importance as well as benefits derived from a properly organized and well regulated agricultural society, were invited to meet at Morse's Hall, in Independence, on Saturday, March 20, 1858, to perfect such an organization. This notice was signed by forty one of the prominent business men and farmers of the county. Pursuant to this call, a meeting was held and an organization perfected and a constitution was adopted. Dr. H. S. Chase was elected president of the enterprise and Abiatha Richardson, David Merrill, Newman Curtis as vice president; L. W. Hart, secretary; O. H. P. Roszell, treasurer, and John Smyzer, William Logan, Rufus Conable, William H. Elliott and Charles Hooker were elected as directors. Committees were appointed and the officers and especial committees were delegated to solicit members and money for the society, and 200 hand bills advertising the society were published and scattered throughout the county. A board of managers, consisting of five members from each township in the county, were appointed; this made fifty five on the board, as there were only eleven townships. S. S. McClure was appointed chief marshal. Premiums were offered on much the same things as now days, on farm animals, field, orchard and garden produce, dairy and household manufactured articles, including many things which now appear in the Floral Hall premium lists and what was of an entirely different class was the mechanics' work department divided into first, second and third classes. In the mechanics' work the list included almost everything that ever was or could be manufactured in the county, the first class offered premiums on twenty four different articles, most of which were farm machinery. hi the mechanics' work - second class - premiums were offered on seven articles, all of which pertained to leather industries (boots, shoes, harness and the different kinds of tanned leather comprised the list). This at first promised to be one of the most important industries of the county. The third class offered premiums on six different industries, as follows, best specimen of cabinet work; best specimen of tailor's work; best specimen of tinware, not less than five pieces; best specimen of blacksmith work, not less than three pieces; best specimen of carriage or sign painting, and best specimen of printing. In the household manufacturers' class the unusual premiums were best piece of flannel, not less than ten yards, best five palm leaf hats, best two pounds of stocking yarn, best three pairs woolen socks, best three pairs woolen mittens, best pair of ten quarter woolen blankets, best pair of shirts. One dollar and 50 cents were the premiums awarded on these articles. We give these lists so one can get an idea of what were the various employments and accomplishments of those early pioneers, what their necessities and luxuries of fine arts embraced. Many of these classes had no entries and many, though having a small number, were exceptionally good for that early day.

In the first class awards were given on the best two horse wagons, best buggy, best ox yoke, best specimen horseshoeing. In the second class awards for best dressed calf skins, best coarse boots, best ladies' shoes. The third class was for best specimen blacksmith's work, three pieces. The premiums were 50 cents and $1.00 on these different articles.

It is interesting to read these lists and compare the difference between the early fairs and those of today; for instance, a premium of $3.00 was given for the best 25 pounds of May or June butter. Imagine this profligacy when now the fair committees are glad to get entries of pound packages. One dollar and fifty cents for best sample of butter made in September; $1.00 for 12 pounds September butter; $1.00 for jar of brandy cheese.

Premiums were offered for best sweet potatoes, best gallon of Chinese sugar and cane sugar; only two premiums were offered on domestic cookery, best loaf of bread and best specimen of cooking, not designated what kind of material.

Among the premiums for miscellaneous articles were the following: A premium of $2.00 was offered for map of Independence drawn with a pen; this was awarded to Thornton & Ross. This was a very creditable piece of work and afterwards these men had copies printed and sold them throughout the county. Now there are only a few in existence and are treasured highly. Two dollars for bits, augurs and gun work; $2.00 for 1 dozen domestic cigars; 50 cents for roast of beef (who wouldn't give 50 cents for a roast of beef, even without a premium attached).

Seventeen awards were given on horses in fifteen different classes. Thirteen awards were given on cattle in nine different classes. Oxen and steers entered were required to be presented in the yoke with a chain to secure them, and be accompanied with a suitable person to take charge of them. The committee on working oxen and four year old steers had to try the cattle presented for premiums, both on wagon and chain, and award the premiums for the best working cattle, considering their docility, training, close matching, strength. size and beauty. Only one entry in sheep was made, although premiums on eight classes were offered and although there were several flocks in the. county. Five awards were given on pigs in a like number of classes.

Only three awards were given on poultry. One field crops awards were given, $5.00 for the best acre of wheat, $3.00 best acre of corn, $1.50 best acre of potatoes, $3.00 best acre of Vermont eight rowed yellow flint corn. One fine thing was the amounts given to the committees in charge of the different departments and authorizing them to recommend discretionary premiums upon such articles and animals if they deemed the same to be highly meritorious, although they might not come within the list of premiums, and such awards would be paid at the annual meeting in January, where all premiums were paid if the funds would possibly admit. The society were furnished the courthouse for the display of manufactured, fancy and household articles, and for fruit, vegetables, grain, etc. Hay would be furnished gratis during the fair for all stock presented for premiums.

For special attractions there was a Ladies' Equestrian Performance, three prizes awarded for the best exhibition of horsemanship, a silver cup worth $8.00 for the second best, a $6.00 riding hat; for the third prize a $4.00 riding whip.

This exhibition was the center of interest in the entire two days' program. There were six entries in the contest, all popular young women of the town. The exhibition was to take place at the race course which then occupied the grounds of the West Side School Building. It was the opinion of the judges that the horses were generally inferior while the riding was uniformly good.

There was a plowing match too, but this did not command the attention that the riding contest from the fact that plowing was a very common, every day occurrence. The exhibition closed with an excellent address by C. A. L. Roszell and the reading of the premiums by Colonel Thomas.

The omens were not as auspicious for a complete success as could be desired on account of the weather which on the first day was cold, blustering and stormy but the second day the weather man changed his attitude toward the enterprise and gave his sanction to it by doling out a very propitious temperature and climate. The different committees generally made their awards impartially and to the general satisfaction of everyone. It was the opinion of some of the judges that though several fine horses were exhibited, the display was inferior to what the county was capable of producing; in cattle there were thirty two entries, some of them very fine, showing even at that early day one of Buchanan's specialties was foreshadowed. The display of swine was quite creditable, the finest specimens were of the Suffolk variety. The display of poultry was not large but the varieties exhibited were fine, among them some Chittagong fowls, probably an extinct variety. In sheep, as we have mentioned previously, there was but one entry, that a fine merino buck and ewe belonging to C. H. Jakway, now of Aurora, one of the first importers of sheep in the state; an anecdote connected with Mr. Jakway was that he once offered a pail of fine butter in Independence for 4 cents per lb. and could not find a purchaser.

The fruit and vegetable exhibit was pronounced excellent some' fine large sweet potatoes were exhibited by E. B. Older and a radish 2 feet in length and 12 in. in circumference, which was grown in Jefferson Township by Mr. Romig. Mr. Romig also exhibited samples of white and yellow seed corn which had produced 75 to 80 bu. per acre that year.

Some of the Chinese sugar cane syrup presented was pronounced equal to the best golden syrup then in market. Mr. Lathrops and Mr. Reed's were especially fine. The butter entries were all of a superior quality. The one entry in cheese was of excellent quality.

This society, of which we have given a very detailed account, deeming an Agricultural Fair, one of the most important interests of a farming community continued in existence but about four years. A good deal of interest was manifest and the displays continued very creditable considering the imperfect development which had at that time been made of the agricultural resources of the county. It was found difficult, however, to keep up the interest, for the lack of funds to offer attractive premiums, and the organization therefore was soon abandoned. At their 4th Annual Fair, in 1862, there was a fine exhibition of sweet potatoes and a squash weighing 104 lbs., also fine specimens of sorghum, syrup and sugar. For several years the show of cattle and horses of the Buchanan County Agricultural Society was on the ground west of the Empire House. That of domestic manufactures was in the rooms of the hotel and the secretary had his office in the east room during the fair.

In 1866 a second society was organized, held two fairs, very much of the same character as the previous ones, and was then abandoned like the other. Neither of these societies owned any ground or other real estate. Their means for defraying expenses, paying premiums, etc., were derived from membership fees ($1 annually from each member) and $200 contributed by the state for each fair held. These sources of revenue being found insufficient, the joint stock plan of organization, then common throughout the state, was finally adopted.

The next agricultural association adopting that plan was organized in 1869, and held its first fair the following year. The first officers were as follows: L. S. Curtis, president; J. H. Campbell, treasurer; Jed Lake, secretary. The capital stock originally subscribed was $6,000, to which was added soon after the organization $600 more. This was increased by a donation of $1,000, made by the county in accordance with a law of the state. All this not being sufficient to meet the estimated expense of an equipment that should enable the society to make "a fair start," it proceeded to borrow $1,500, making its entire outfit $9,200. With this money it purchased about sixty acres of land, owned by James Burns, about half a mile west of Independence, being a part of the northeast quarter of section 5, township 88, range 9; enclosed it with a close substantial board fence; built along its south and western sides convenient stalls and sheds for cattle, a stable one hundred feet in length for horses, and an octagonal floral hall twenty two feet on each side, graded a half mile race track, and dug four excellent wells. The aggregate expense of all this was $9,100. The main hall was two stories high, with a wing on one of its sides 22 feet in width by 60 in length. This wing is used for the exhibition of fruits and vegetables, while the main hall was devoted to flowers, articles of domestic manufacture, works of art, etc.

Fairs have been held annually ever since this society was organized, which have always been successful, pecuniarily, and for the most part creditable to the farming interests of the county, which should be the chief care of such an organization.

The capital stock of the society is divided into 200 shares, one half of which are owned by Jed Lake, Esq., the most of the other half being held by the farmers throughout the county. The society is still in debt about one thousand two hundred dollars.

Eventually "the Agricultural Fair" became, honestly speaking, the "Annual County Races," and in the days when Independence was a veritable hot bed for speed and breed in horse flesh, the races were the chief attraction of the entire fair and even in 1880 the former historian decries the fact that racing was being made such a prominent feature and was the absorbing interest of the fair and proves his statement by saying that on Thursday, the first day devoted to that part of the exhibition 1,900 tickets were sold at the gate, how would he exclaim if he had known the figures of the 1891-2 fair when thousands crowded every available space on the grounds to see the fast horse race; and for no other purpose and on that memorable day when Axtell and Allerton raced each other in a record breaking heat.

A County Agricultural Society was organized in the county on March 26th, 1886, by a number of prominent men. On the 27th a meeting was held at the courthouse and S. T. Spangler was chosen president; L. J. Dunlap, vice president; F. B. Bonniwell, secretary; and F A Weatherbee, treasurer. It considered renting the old county fair grounds at the Rush Park site for the fair that year, and possibly to buy the grounds later.

This Association was conducted with various degrees of success, mostly in a less degree. If judged from a financial standpoint although the Association endeavored to do its part and give the people a good fair. But a fair, cannot be conducted successfully on "good intentions" alone and the Association did not have the cooperation of the farmers either in their attendance or exhibits, and this fact too, did not warrant expensive attractions.

In January, 1909, the Fair Association was entirely reorganized, a stock company formed, of which the representative farmers and business men are the stockholders. One hundred and fifty four shares of stock were sold. W. M. Woodward was elected president, A. H. Farwell secretary and W. A. Tidball treasurer and eleven directors were named. Since this organization was perfected the Fair has been steadily prospering, and with the "Booster" spirit manifested it is expected that the Buchanan County Fair is scheduled to be one of the big fairs in the state.


In January, 1891, the Buchanan County Agricultural Society bought thirty acres of land of Thomas Scarelift just north of the Illinois Central Depot grounds, and in the spring began improving it for the permanent County Fair Grounds.

The site selected is considered to have much natural beauty, easily accessible, and makes one of the finest fair grounds in the state. The society is controlled and almost wholly officered by farmers. Subscription papers were placed in the handg of the township assessors and every one had an opportunity to show their good will toward the society. No one was asked to subscribe a large amount but all were expected to give something, from 50 cents to $5.

In 1897 the fair attractions eclipsed all previous records, the association having secured the "Doctor Carver Combination" which consisted of Dr. W. F. Carver, champion rifle and wing shot of the world and the high diving horses, which dove from a platform forty feet high into a twenty foot tank of water. An immense crowd witnessed both of these marvelous performances.

The Buchanan County Fair of 1904 was one of the most successful for years. On Thursday probably 7,000 people visited the fair, the big attraction was the appearance of the noted Carrie Nation. She delivered her temperance address and had an attentive, appreciative audience. After the speech, several minutes were devoted to selling her souvenir hatchets and throngs of people invested in the trinket, the proceeds from the sales to be devoted to the temperance cause. The exhibitions were exceptionally good and the weather ideal.

Other special features which have attracted immense crowds were the diving elks, and in 1911, Otto W. Brodie was secured by Secretary Rigby to give exhibitions with his flying machine, a "Farnum Biplane." It was rather a disappointment in some respects, the machine was so old and hard to manage that only one successful flight was made, that on the first day when in alighting he seriously injured his machine.

But in spite of this fact it was a novel sight and well worth the money, as very few in the county had seen an aeroplane. In 1912, the chief attraction was the automobile given away to the one holding the lucky ticket and souvenir spoons with each admission was another drawing card.

In 1913 extensive improvements were made on the grounds, an addition equal in size to the original amphitheater was built on the north of the old one, new gateways, fences, stalls, etc., were added.

In 1914, Micky McGuire, "The Wild Irish Rose," was the star attraction and gave three flights a day, of the most marvelous, thrilling and hair raising feats. He is a fearless spectacular aeronaut and the immense crowds were spellbound Flower decorated carriages was also a big attraction. One novel feature was the night fair. All attractions were open, the grounds brilliantly illuminated and besides the regular performance, splendid fireworks drew a large crowd out every night.

On Thursday, the largest crowd that ever attended a Buchanan County Fair poured through the gates. Both amphitheaters were packed and standing room along the entire west half of the track was at a premium. Hundreds of automobiles were crowded in the half mile.

The following named persons have been secretaries: Jed Lake, C. W. Williams, George H. Wilson, T. B. Bonniwell, A. H. Farwell, J. W. Foreman, A. H. Farwell, C. W. Stites, Charles L. Bing, P. G. Freeman, A. G. Rigby, J. S. Bassett, and Perry J. Miller.

History of Bachanan County, Iowa
And its People
By Harry Church and Katharyn J. Chappell
Vol II
The S. J. Clarke Publishing Co.
Chicago 1914

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